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Sucking up to U.S. doesn't help Canada

Thursday, April 20, 2006

“Well, I would begin by expressing our great appreciation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her hospitality, her warmth, her intelligence on so many of these issues in which Canada has a deep and abiding interest. And I would also very much describe this as a positive and productive meeting that allowed us to not only discuss in some detail these many important issues for both our countries, but also to establish a personal rapport, which I think is extremely important, and indicative of the relationship that does exist between our countries…. And, so I'm delighted to be here. I've always been a fan of yours and much of our discussion today confirmed what I already knew about you from having followed your career, so we're very grateful and I personally extend my thanks to you for your generous and very kind invitation to be with you.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, on a visit to Washington, April 13, 2006

Sorry about making you read that. Before I go on, I’ll give you a moment to clean up the vomit and change your clothes.

What is it about Conservative politicians and their love affair with all things American that leads them to depart in such a big way from the ideal of bilateral relations between two equal sovereign states? When dealing with the U.S. government, MacKay and the rest of the Conservatives go far beyond the required diplomatic niceties and come across like someone applying to be the White House pool boy. They could be starring in one of those ubiquitous “bad poker face” commercials. Indeed, if Peter MacKay had been any more effusive in his praise of the Bush Administration, Congress would likely have had to subpoena his blue suit.

Now, in spite of my significant objections to American domestic and foreign policy, I’ve never believed that Canada should be oblivious to the economic benefits that come from living next to the world’s largest economy. Nor do I think that our federal government should be deliberately poking their American counterparts in the eye just for the sake of saying that they’ve done so. But, where Canadian interests diverge significantly from American policy (which they so often do), I want my government to represent our interests vigorously and clearly – even if that means offending the Americans.

Instead, our new government is going out of its way to show the White House that Stephen Harper is what a controversial Washington Times article predicted he would be if elected: “Mr. Bush's new best friend internationally and the poster boy for his ideal foreign leader”. Of course, during the campaign, Harper tried to downplay his affinity with the unpopular Bush administration, knowing that Canadians weren’t at all interested in reversing any of the stances that had annoyed Washington. Harper went so far as to respond to the Washington Times piece with a letter to the editor, listing the alleged differences between his party and the White House (although its description of him as “pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative” was essentially accurate). It’s safe to assume that the implied nudge and wink that accompanied the letter were easily understood by the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Patrick Basham (the author of the article) was besieged with angry e-mails from Canadian Conservatives urging him to put a cork in it. “I had to stop printing them off because there was a pile on the floor. The conservative Canadian reaction has been overwhelmingly negative,” said Basham. “Conservative Canadians accused me of costing Harper the election, doing the Liberals' dirty work for them.”

Indeed, most American conservatives understood very well that any overt cosiness with Harper could cost him the election, so they willingly stayed quiet prior to election day. An e-mail circulated in the last week of the campaign by Conservative guru Paul Weyrich, indicated that the Conservatives were “within striking distance of electing an outright majority” and the American political right shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their chances. “Please do not be interviewed until Monday evening [election day] at which point hopefully there will be reason to celebrate.”

With the exception of altering the Canadian position on Iraq (which would be politically impossible for him, particularly in a minority situation), Harper is now delivering everything that American conservatives expected of him. He’s cut funding for Kyoto initiatives by as much as 80%. He’s given every indication that he intends to cave on softwood lumber, in spite of repeated rulings in Canada’s favour. He’s promised to reopen the same-sex marriage debate and the issue of Canadian participation in missile defense. And, most importantly for the White House, he’s signalled that he really does want to be Bush’s “new best friend” – at a time when the administration is rapidly loosing friends around the globe.

One could almost tolerate the new tone of servitude to the Americans if there was any sign that it would actually achieve results. But, if that approach worked practically, we wouldn’t have a softwood lumber issue today (recall that Brian Mulroney’s Free Trade Deal was supposed to ensure that such disputes were settled once and for all). And, if that approach worked politically, Silvio Berlusconi would have been re-elected in Italy. The sooner that Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay realize that carrying George W. Bush’s coat is a non-starter both at home and abroad, the better it will be for Canada.
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